As a foodie and occasional cooking teacher, I’ve judged countless cooking contests over the years. Cookies, candies, pies, Dutch-oven cooking, barbecue, lots of chili cook-offs, a local Iron Chef competition and scores of kids’ cooking contests, which means the children’s delicacies often tasted a lot like Palmolive (wash your hands before cooking boys and girls… )
One highly memorable year I even helped judge the Shasta County Fair food entries, which meant not just sweet treats like cakes and breads and jams, but more iffy items like canned okra and asparagus, a job that IMHO should earn the judges royal blue ribbons for valor and bravery.
But it wasn’t until Slow Food Shasta Cascade’s “Field to Fork – Fork to Fig!” event on Sept. 9 in Corning that I’d ever competed in a cooking contest, probably because I’d never been invited. I jumped at the chance, even though I was up against chefs Sadie Roy from Chartwells at Simpson University, who made rice pudding with figs, Guenn Johnsen Gentry of Clementine Cooks, who prepared a colorful fig salad, and a trio of Moonstone Bistro chefs who created three different fig appetizers.
I was the only non-professional chef.
We were given a choice of figs provided by Maywood Farms, and the precious fruit was driven from Corning to Redding by Candace Byrne, Slow Food member and owner/publisher and editor of Shasta Edible Butte. We met in a parking lot and got our fig deliveries from Candace, packed carefully in Maywood Farms containers.
I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you that I was the fig winner with my creation of more than 100 figs stuffed with dried apricot, walnut, candied ginger and pear, wrapped in puff pastry and baked.
They were pretty cute, if I do say so myself. They bore a mini-resemblance to my favorite puff-pastry wrapped pears. Giving credit where credit is due, the idea was my twin’s.
As thrilled as I was to win, the truth is that I think that depending upon when the counting was done, any of the chefs would have won because the number of judges was constantly changing as more guests arrived.
In the case of Moonstone Bistro, because its chefs divided their samples in thirds, rather than have 100 bites of one taste for all the judges, they quickly ran out, so all their samples weren’t available for all the guests to sample. (We might convince the chefs to share their recipes here, if we ask nicely.)
But the fig-off was just a small part of the day. There were tours of Maywood Farms and its packing house. And the day ended wonderfully with one of the most incredible brunches I’ve ever had, prepared by Farwood Bar and Grill. And there was a wine-tasting of Dakaro Cellers. But overall, figs were the main event, all served around and inside the beautiful Maywood home, adorned with fig art (see fig-and-woman painting, above).
This incredible, fun and delicious “Field to Fork – Fork to Fig” was hosted by Slow Food Shasta-Cascade, an organization I’ve talked a lot about lately, mainly because I’ve been selected as a California delegate to attend the Slow Food International Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy, later in October. (Hence, the Oct. 7 fundraiser, A Harvest Sampler.)
I’m a brand new member of our local chapter, Slow Food Shasta-Cascade, an organization that’s about seven years old, one I’m proud to say was co-founded with help from my daughter, Sarah Domke, way back when I thought Slow Food somehow had something to do with crockpot cooking.
Oh, the shame!
Photos by Canda Williams
As a foodie, I’m somewhat embarrassed that I’m so late coming to the Slow Food table, because so much of what it stands for is what I believe in, too, starting with a world vision where everyone can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet. Slow Food promotes good, clean and fair food for all. Its logo is a little red snail, an ironic reminder to say no to fast food, and to live an unhurried life, beginning at the table.
Slow Food is a mindset and philosophy, but it’s also grown as a grassroots not-profit organization that now has more than 100,000 worldwide members in 1,3oo “convivia” – local chapters – worldwide, as well as a network of more than 2,000 food communities who practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality foods.
What excites me most about the Slow Food idea is it’s a perfect fit for our north state with its Mediterranean climate, and its rich history of ranching and agriculture. Oh, if I were queen of the north state, those are things I would promote, along with celebrating and promoting our dedicated growers and food producers. Our north state region could be like Italy, where tourists pay to tour working farms, ranches, wineries, cheese-makers, olive oil producers, poultry farms, apiaries …
That’s a project for another day.
Today, I will bask in being the fig winner.
Doni’s Stuffed Figs in Puff Pastry1 dozen Black Mission figs, stems intact 1/4 cup each chopped dried apricots and walnuts (or any dried fruit or nut) 2 slices dried candied ginger 2 Tbsps. brown sugar 1 pear, peeled and cubed into pea-sized pieces Fig innards from scooped out figs 1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed 1 egg, beaten
Carefully cut the bottoms off each fig, leaving the bottom flap near each fig to save for later. Using a baby spoon, carefully scoop out one generous spoonful of fig pulp. Set the fig insides aside in a medium bowl.
Mix with the fig pulp the fruit, nuts, ginger and brown sugar. Take each fig and turn upside down. Shove a small piece of pear inside, then pack gently with the fig, fruit and nut mixture. Place the bottom flap on each fig (the damp mixture will help hold it in place). Repeat with every fig.
Beat the egg in a bowl with 1 tablespoon water. Set aside.
Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut circles large enough to set a fig on and have enough pastry to fit over the fig, using your fingers to press the dough into place and cover the fig well, leaving the stem intact and poking out the top. Brush each pastry-wrapped fig with beaten egg. Place on a well greased or parchment covered pan.
Bake at 375 degrees until the pastry is puffed and golden, about 15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.